Rockefeller: Web facial recognition technology needs FTC scrutiny

UPDATE: When asked about the letter Rockefeller sent to FTC Chairman Leibowitz asking for information on facial recognition, Jessica Rich, deputy director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that the agency will “report back to Chairman Rockefeller and his committee on our conclusions and any recommendations” following the workshop.”

Original post: Sen. John “Jay” Rockefeller (D-W.V.) on Wednesday asked the Federal Trade Commission to examine the privacy implications of face recognition technology that could be used by Web giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple. On Tuesday, Google announced that it will use some facial recognition technology in its new smartphone operating system, Android 4.0.

Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce Committee, asked the FTC to provide a report on its findings after the agency’s workshop on the subject scheduled for Dec. 8.

The use of facial recognition technology has sparked concerns by privacy advocates, who say that such technology can be used for surveillance and marketers can track Internet users through their images online — even without a user’s knowledge.

Rockefeller has introduced a “Do Not Track” bill to give consumers the ability to stop third-party marketers from tracking activity online. He cited experimentation by Google, Facebook and Apple in a ”manner that raises serious privacy concerns,” according to a statement by the lawmaker. CNN reported last March that Google was planning a facial recognition app. Google denied the report, saying it will not introduce facial recognition features to its products without “strong privacy protections in place.”

“As in many fast growing and changing sectors, public policy has not kept pace with the development of this sort of technology,” Rockefeller wrote in a letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “The privacy concerns are evident. As the Commerce Committee considers privacy legislation in the future, we will need to understand the capabilities of this technology as well as the privacy and security concerns raised by their development.”

He asked the FTC to address the following questions in its December workshop:

-- What are the current and future uses of facial recognition technology?

-- How can consumers benefit from the technology?

-- What are the privacy and security concerns surrounding the adoption of the technology; for example, have consumers consented to the collection and use of their images?

-- Are there special considerations for the use of this technology on or by children and teens?

-- What legal protections currently exist for consumers regarding the use of the technology, both in the United States and internationally?

-- What consumer protections should be provided?

The Washington Post’s Hayley Tsukayama contributed to this report.

Related:

Galaxy Nexus debuts with Ice Cream Sandwich, facial recognition

Inappropriate material on Kids Mobile Apps

Facebook continues DC hiring spree with privacy expert

Children’s Internet privacy comes into Congress’ view

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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